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Copeling v. Illinois State Toll Highway Authority

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 24, 2014

ROSALYN COPELING, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS STATE TOLL HIGHWAY AUTHORITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GARY FEINERMAN, District Judge.

Rosalyn Copeling brought this suit against her former employer, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, alleging race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), 775 ILCS 5/1 et seq. Doc. 30. (Earlier complaints named four individual defendants, but the second amended complaint, which is the operative complaint, names only the Authority.) The court dismissed Copeling's IHRA claim and Title VII disparate impact claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Docs. 49-50 (reported at 2014 WL 540443 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 11, 2014)). The Authority has moved for summary judgment on Copeling's remaining claim, which alleges disparate treatment under § 1981 and Title VII. Doc. 55. The motion is granted.

Background

The court makes two preliminary observations before setting forth the facts.

First, the Authority complied with the local rules by filing a Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement of undisputed facts along with its summary judgment motion. Docs. 55, 55-24. Each factual assertion in the Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement cites evidentiary material in the record and is supported by the cited material. See N.D.Ill. L.R. 56.1(a) ("The statement referred to in (3) shall consist of short numbered paragraphs, including within each paragraph specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon to support the facts set forth in that paragraph."). Copeling's Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) response responds to only four paragraphs (¶¶ 19, 50, 54, 67) of the Authority's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement. Doc. 59. As a result, the court will accept as true all facts asserted in the other paragraphs of the Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement. See N.D.Ill. L.R. 56. 1(b)(3)(C) ("All material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party."); Parra v. Neal, 614 F.3d 635, 636 (7th Cir. 2010); Rao v. BP Prods. N. Am., Inc., 589 F.3d 389, 393 (7th Cir. 2009) ("In accordance with a local rule, the district court justifiably deemed the factual assertions in BP's Rule 56.1(a) Statement in support of its motion for summary judgment admitted because Rao did not respond to the statement.").

Second, Copeling's brief makes several factual assertions ( e.g., that her supervisors were Caucasian, that she performed her job well and received positive ratings) that are not asserted in the Authority's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement or in her Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) response or Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement of additional facts. Doc. 58. Those unsupported facts are disregarded for purposes of summary judgment. See Koszola v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi., 385 F.3d 1104, 1109 (7th Cir. 2004) ("[A] district court is entitled to decide [a summary judgment] motion based on the factual record outlined in the [parties'] Local Rule 56.1 statements.") (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted); Midwest Imps., Ltd. v. Coval, 71 F.3d 1311, 1317 (7th Cir. 1995) (holding that the predecessor to Local Rule 56.1(b)(3) "provides the only acceptable means of... presenting additional facts to the district court"); Gray v. Cannon, 974 F.Supp.2d 1150, 1162 (N.D. Ill. 2013) ("Under settled law, facts asserted in a brief but not presented in a Local Rule 56.1 statement are disregarded in resolving a summary judgment motion.") (internal quotation marks omitted); Curtis v. Wilks, 704 F.Supp.2d 771, 789 (N.D. Ill. 2010) ("Any facts plaintiffs assert in their response brief that were not included in their LR 56.1 submissions will not be considered."); Byrd-Tolson v. Supervalu, Inc., 500 F.Supp.2d 962, 966 (N.D. Ill. 2007) ("facts are properly presented through the framework of the Rule 56.1 statements, and not through citation in the briefs to raw record material").

With that said, the following facts are set forth as favorably to Copeling as the record and Local Rule 56.1 permit. See Hanners v. Trent, 674 F.3d 683, 691 (7th Cir. 2012).

Copeling is an African-American female. Doc. 55-24 at ¶ 1. The Authority hired Copeling as a toll collector in 2007. Id. at ¶ 4. The Authority's "Personnel Policy and Procedures Manual, " which Copeling received when she was hired, said this about absences: "[A]n employee who is absent without leave and without properly reporting [her] absences for two... consecutive scheduled workdays will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including discharge." Id. at ¶¶ 8-9. Copeling also signed a document explaining that toll collectors "must be available on 24-hour-7-day a week basis and... may be working various locations on the Tollway." Id. at ¶ 12; see also id. at ¶ 6.

Copeling filed a workers compensation claim in October 2011, alleging that she injured her right hand at work. Id. at ¶ 24. The claim was denied because an independent medical examiner determined the injury, diagnosed as carpel tunnel syndrome, was not work-related. Id. at ¶ 25.

On several occasions in 2011 and 2012, Copeling applied for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Id. at ¶¶ 26-29. Copeling was approved for block leave from November 15-20, 2011, and she was granted intermittent leave at various points during the following year. Id. at ¶ 26. Copeling did not work any days in March 2012. Id. at ¶¶ 27-28, 30. The Authority informed Copeling that her FMLA leave covered only a few days per week and that she needed to submit additional paperwork to obtain continuous leave. Id. at ¶¶ 27-29. On March 19, 2012, the Authority issued Copeling a notice requiring her to return to work within forty-eight hours. Id. at ¶ 31. Copeling eventually completed the paperwork necessary to obtain continuous FMLA leave. Id. at ¶ 32. She received continuous FMLA leave from April 1 to June 20, 2012, Authorized Leave Without Pay from June 21 to August 30, 2012, and leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") from August 31 to October 30, 2012. Id. at ¶¶ 32-35. By October 30, 2012, Copeling had exhausted all of her available leave. Id. at ¶ 35.

In the meantime, on August 31, 2012, Lisa Williams, the Authority's Equal Employment Opportunity and ADA coordinator, emailed Copeling to initiate the ADA-mandated interactive process for evaluating her request for an ADA accommodation and to ask for contact information for her physician. Id. at ¶ 38; see 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3). Copeling responded by providing the name and number of her doctor. Doc. 55-24 at ¶ 38. On October 23, the Authority sent Copeling a letter noting the upcoming expiration of her ADA leave on October 30 and asking that she contact Williams to discuss reasonable accommodations. Id. at ¶ 39. On November 6, Williams called Copeling to advise her that they should discuss other accommodation options. Id. at ¶ 40. On November 12, the Authority suspended Copeling. Id. at ¶ 36. On November 14, Copeling left Williams a message providing the name and number of her attorney. Id. at ¶ 41. On November 26, Williams called Copeling three times without receiving a response. Id. at ¶ 42. The next day, Williams emailed Copeling, who did not respond. Id. at ¶ 43.

On November 29, the Authority sent Copeling a "Forty-Eight Hour Notice, " which stated that separation procedures would begin unless she came back to work within forty-eight hours. Id. at ¶ 45. Copeling did not respond to the notice. Id. at ¶ 46. On December 31, 2012, the Authority sent Copeling a "Notice of Separation" due to her failure to return to work from October 31 to December 31, 2012. Id. at ¶ 47.

Copeling asserts that her physician did not clear her to return to work until eight days following her termination. Doc. 61 at ¶ 7. During her time at the Authority, Copeling was denied the training that others received for the position of "Collector in Charge, " which is considered a promotion and comes with higher pay, id. at ¶¶ 1-3; she was denied "seniority benefits" and promotions, id. at ¶¶ 4-5; and she was falsely accused of violating the Authority's policy against cell-phone use while working, id. at ¶ 6. On April 5, 2010, Copeling was suspended for three days for violating the Authority's policy against picking up coin spillage in a lane with the barrier gate open and the overhead light illuminated ...


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